Ohakune to Tongariro Crossing North Island 21st to 24th April 2008.
11 May 2008
Our trip to Whakapapa Village took us along SH 45 to SH 4 as far as National Park Village. It was a wet trip as the rain was steadily falling and with the low mist we did not get many views. At National Park village we turned onto SH 47 and drove the short distance to the turn off on to SH 48 and into the Tongariro National Park. As we approached the park the majestic Chateau Tongariro hotel came into view. It reminded me of photographs that I have seen of the big hotel in the Canadian resort of Whistlers. First opened in 1929, the building is a classic European mansion house; it has recently undergone a refurbishment and now boosts a tennis court, nine hole golf course, a cinema and several restaurants to sample.
It is certainly an eye catching place to stay and I was very disappointed when Jeff drove straight past and turned into the Whakapapa Holiday Park, which did not look as stunning but boosts a backpacker’s lodge, camp kitchen and ladies toilets where the hand drier was broken. Not much difference. As we checked in at the reception the Scottish girl was surprised to find we live in Coupar Angus. She came from Dunkeld and her best friend lives in Coupar Angus and I recognised the names of her friend and her brother, Amanda and James Watson, who attended school with Richenda and Kieron.
Centred around the volcanic peaks of Ruapehu, Tongariro and Ngauruhoe, Tongariro National Park is one of a handful of sites in the world with dual World Heritage Status in recognition of both its natural and cultural values. In 1887 Te Heuheu Tukino IV, who was the paramount chief of the Ngati Tuwharetoa, gifted the original 2640 hectares of land surrounding the mountain peaks to the people of NZ in an endeavour to protect the sacredness of their mountains. With its towering active volcano’s, it is one of NZ’s most spectacular parks. In summertime it offers many walking trails including the Northern Circuit, one of the Great Walks in NZ, Round the Mountain Circuit (Mount Ruapehu) and the Tongariro Crossing. The latter is often heralded as NZ’s most spectacular one day track, taking 6-8 hours to complete. In the winter it is one of NZ’s most popular ski areas.
Mt Ruapehu is a long, multipeaked summit and stands at 2797m and is the most active volcano in the park. The upper slopes were sprayed with hot mud in 1969, 1975 and again in 1988. These were just tame compared to what was to follow. In 1995 Ruapehu spurted volcanic rock cloaking the area in ash and steam. From June to September the following year the mountain rumbled, groaned and sent ash clouds into the sky, the ski season was cancelled and the locals in the town of Ohakune sat in the main street and watched the mountains tantrums. Scientists now have alarm systems at the edge of Crater Lake to monitor the mountain.
Mt Tongariro, another old, but still active volcano stands 1967 m and it last erupted in 1926. It has a number of coloured lakes dotting its uneven summit as well as hot springs gushing out of its side at Ketetahi. The Tongariro Crossing walk passes beside the lakes and right through several craters, I bet that speeds the walkers up.
Mt Ngauruhoe is much younger than the other two volcano’s and stands 2287m. It is said to have formed in the last 2500 years and it has slopes to its summit that are symmetrical giving it a conical shape. Both Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu were used in the Lord of the Rings film, but it is Ngauruhoe you will recognise as Mordor’s Mt Doom.
The rain lifted in the late afternoon so we had a walk down to the visitor’s centre where we wandered around the many interesting displays on the geological and human history of the park as well as viewing one of the audio visual shows on volcanos. We had bought a ticket to see the two films and as it was now getting late and the centre was about to close we will have to return tomorrow to see the one on Maori history. Noticing my great disappointment at passing the Chateau Tongariro Jeff took me down to the bar for a drink, last of the big spenders, that is where his generosity ended as we returned to the van for me to cook tea.
We woke this morning to a dry day but very overcast. The ranger at the visitors centre informed us that today would be showery and not good for walking, but it will clear up for Thursday and Friday. We returned to the visitors centre, watched the second video, purchased some thermal gear and then decided to drive around the block, as it were, returning to do some walking tomorrow. Our journey today would take us on SH 4, along side the railway track to Raurimu, the same track we had taken a train journey on last week. We stopped at Raurimu lookout to see the Raurimu Spiral model and see if we could pick out the route the train took on the actual line. This was not too difficult as we could pick out the electric poles along the line, returning to the van we had a coffee and just as we were about to drive away we briefly spotted a train going up the spiral before loosing sight of it.
We continued on our way till we reached the small township of Manuni where we turned onto SH 43, another pretty drive up and over hills and through forests. The rain by now had stopped and the sun was beginning to come out and we noticed the views were getting better. At Kuratau Junction we turned south on SH32 and shortly afterwards were rewarded with our first view of Lake Taupo. At a nice picnic spot and had lunch overlooking the lake before moving on to Waihi Hot Springs and Thermal Area. We collected our swim wear and headed in for a soak in the hot pools. We spent an hour in an outdoor thermal pool, which was at a constant temperature of 37C (98F) whilst talking to a family from Chorley. After our soak we went for the 20 minute board walk around the mud pools and thermal areas before following our noses to a hot mud area where a Hangi was cooking. This is a traditional Maori way of cooking food in a hot pit, it smelt really good and we would love to have had a share of it, but it belonged to someone else so we returned to our van.
It was now getting late afternoon and we decided to continue on SH 47 and stop for the night at the campsite at Tongariro Crossing ready for our return to Tongariro National Park tomorrow.
Thursday morning dawned and it was a nice sunny day, just great for some walking, so we drove the short journey to the into Whakapapa Village. On the way we passed the end of the road to the Sir Edmund Hillary Activity Centre where the disaster occurred last week. I could not help thinking about those young people who were looking forward to their adventure holiday which would end in tragedy.
Once at the village we made some sandwiches for our lunch and set off on the Taranaki Falls Walk, a 2 hour loop walk which would take us on the Tongariro Northern Circuit both on the way out and on the way back. There is now only one of the great tracks left for us to do a day walk on and that is the Lake Waikaremoana Track. Our walk today took us out on open moor land to the Taranaki Falls on the Waiere Stream. We passed the end of the lava flow from one of the volcanic eruptions and once at the waterfall we sat on a bench and ate our lunch. The walk back followed the Waiere Stream and then the Mangatepopo Stream back to the village.
We decided to drive up the Bruce Road to the chair lifts on Mt Ruapehu that was operating today. The journey up to the top involves two different chair lifts and as we climbed to the top we disappeared into the clouds. The café was open and we went in to get a hot chocolate to warm us up. Inside there were lots of photos taken when Mt Ruapehu erupted, including one with steam coming out of the volcano with skiers on the snow in front of it. What an experience it must have been for them. Whilst at the top the clouds swirled around and we did get some views around the area. Sitting on the chair lift all we could see below us was large volcanic rocks spewed about the place. It made it hard to imagine how anyone could ski in this area.
Once on the chair lift to return back down we disappeared into the clouds and could see very little about us. I am only pleased that when the chair lift decided to stop we were at least out of the clouds as we sat there; swinging in the wind suspended above all this volcanic rock. We were only stopped for a short while but to me it seemed an eternity.
Next time perhaps we will remember to take our coats with us as it was very cold at the top and on the chair lifts.
Once back on hard ground we descended the mountain to stop at the car park for the Silica Rapids Track. This is a loop track but we had decided to just walk into the rapids and back out the same way. The silica rapids are named for the silica deposits formed here by the rapids on the Waikare Stream. The creamy white deposit on the stream bed is alumino silicate, as the water becomes more turbulent it looses carbon dioxide. This creates the ideal solution for the alumino silica to be deposited on the stream bed. It was quite an amazing sight to see. Our last short walk took us down to the Matariki Falls where we came across a bride and groom getting some photos taken.
We returned to the same camp site we had stayed in last night tired but happy after such a good day.